HOW IS YOUR PRAYER LIFE?
9/21/2012 8:12:20 PM -
In Contemporary Christian Music, John Fischer writes:
I have a bad habit. When my children tell me about something they've learned for the first time, I often act as if I knew that. Even worse, sometimes, I tell them how the same thing happened to me years ago.
When my wife hears something 'new' from the kids, her mouth drops open and her eyes widen. It's as if she has never heard this kind of thing before. The kids' faces brighten, and they feel as if they have actually enlightened their mother.
I used to think my wife was just acting and sooner or later the kids would find out and feel lied to. Then I realized it isn't an act at all. Though she may already have experienced what they are trying to tell her, she's never experienced it through them. Their personal 'revelations' are entirely new. It is the same with God. As all knowing and sovereign as He is, I'm sure He's still eager to hear our prayers because He has never heard it quite the way we say it. We are all unique. We have our own signature attached to all we do and say. Our lives, our experiences, and our faith expressed to Him are never old.
I. A PARADIGM OF PRAYER VV. 1-4
I believe that most travelers on airlines do not pay much attention to the pre-flight safety announcements that the flight attendants provide on commercial airlines. However, the near fatal crash of the Delta airline Jet en route to Canada a couple of years ago, has caused many airline passengers to pay attention to the pre-flight instructions. If the passengers in that airplane had ignored the instructions of the flight attendants, perhaps all of them might have died in the flames that later engulfed the plane. However, since they paid rapt attention to the instructions all of them got out safely. There was not a single casualty.
Many Christians neglect prayer in a similar way some passengers do the oxygen masks that are shown them in commercial flights. If you take Jesus Christ seriously, you know that prayer is more like oxygen than an oxygen mask. Prayer is a constant essential of life. As Martin Luther observed, 'To be a Christian without prayer is no more possible than to be alive without breathing.' Prayer is more than a privilege; it is a necessity; an indispensable part of our walk with God.
However, if we would admit in all honesty, prayer is often a problem in our lives. It is easier to preach about prayer than to pray. The problem of prayer does not lie exclusively in the intellectual aspect of it. There is a mystery about it. What should I pray about and how should I do it? Am I doing it right? If prayer is so great, why does it feel like a burden or a duty, or worse, like religious play-acting? Does God really hear and answer me?
Prayer was a subject that was on the Lord's mind constantly. Our Lord Jesus prayed, and taught His disciples about prayer. However, prayer was not simply a spiritual discipline for Him. Jesus did not focus on prayer so much as He focused on His Father. This is very important, because most of our problems with prayer are due to our misconceptions about God. If we understood Him better we would pray more and enjoy it more. Therefore, Jesus does not give His disciples a praying technique so much as an appreciation of the recipient of prayer. One such place we encounter that teaching is in the parable of the midnight caller recorded in the Gospel of Luke 11:5-8. Nevertheless, before Jesus tells the parable, He gives us a paradigm to guide us in prayer.
Suppose you want to develop a skill such as playing soccer, basketball, computer whiz, or becoming an author. To whom do you go? A wise person does not just turn to a willing friend, but to a qualified expert. The expert on prayer is doubtless the Lord Jesus. Prayer was a normal activity for Jesus (Luke 5:16; 3:21; 6:12; 9:18; 9:28-29; 22:39-46). If the God-man chose to pray constantly and consistently, how much more should we?
The disciples not only recognized the priority of prayer in the life of their Master, they were impressed with what they saw. They must have sensed that in some way prayer was the secret of Jesus' life, and that He was strong at a place where they were weak. 'Lord, teach us to pray" is the only record in Scripture of the disciples asking Jesus to teach them anything. The disciples never asked Jesus to teach them how to preach, how to perform miracles, how to heal, or even how to teach, but they asked Him to teach them to pray.
You can discover people's spiritual maturity by listening to them pray. The Jews had distinctive corporate prayers and prayer styles, and John the Baptist had apparently given his disciples a recognizable prayer pattern. Jesus' disciples wanted a Jesus-style prayer. However, they wanted more than a prayer to recite. The disciples' request is not 'Teach us a prayer,' but 'Teach us to pray.'
I have preached about the Model Prayer when I dealt with the Sermon on the Mount. I did a verse-by-verse exegesis on the Model Prayer from Matthew's Gospel. In view of this, I will not do an extensive exposition in the first four verses. However, I will give you three prayer principles from these verses.
Prayer is to the Father. The heart of all that Jesus came to do is
wrapped up in the simple address 'Father.' Nowhere in the Old Testament do you find a person addressing God as 'Father.' The Jews began their prayer this way: 'Lord God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob, God most high, Creator of heaven and earth, our shield and the shield of our fathers!' However, since the day of Jesus, believers have been able to come as children and cry out 'Father!' The word 'Father' in the Hebrew language is Abba, which is equivalent to our English term 'Daddy.' Therefore, Christian prayer is the language of intimacy, the loving conversation of a Father and His child. Prayer's central purpose is not to transfer information. After all, what can you tell an all-knowing God that He does not already know? Rather it is to deepen the relationship that we have with the One who is all that a father could ever be and much more.
2. Prayer is about the Father's glory.
'Hallowed be your name' is a plea that humans will honor God's reputation. 'Your kingdom come' anticipates that our Lord's reign will be established on the earth. Ultimately, this looks forward to the Lord's return in His kingdom glory, and it also reminds us that, as His kingdom people, we can live under His authority now and extend His rule by sharing the gospel. What we must not miss is that, in prayer, God's glory and God's program take precedence over all else. You pervert prayer if you make it primarily about getting your needs met, rather than desiring that your Father be honored and obeyed properly.
Prayer is about our needs.
To say that prayer is primarily God-centered is not to say that petition is wrong. On the contrary, there are no concerns that the Father does not want us to bring to Him. 'Daily bread' represents every need related to our physical existence. Bread is a necessity, not a luxury, an essential, not just a desire. We come for such needs, just as we also come asking, 'Forgive us our sins,' a sobering admission that we are sinners, who need help in our relationship with God and others. We are vulnerable people who are attracted to sin the way a moth is drawn to the flame. 'Lead us not into temptation' reminds us of our continuing moral needs, which are due to the power of sin within us and Satan outside us.
Having given the disciples a model of prayer, the Lord continues His instruction by telling a parable. The focus of the parable is important, because it forces us to think deeply about the one to whom our prayer is made.
II. A PARABLE OF PRAYER VV. 5-8
Among the four Gospels of the NT, only Luke records the parable of the midnight caller. In just a few colorful words, Jesus paints a picture of a man who was out of bread. He probably had the last bite for supper, and then receives a traveler who arrives at midnight. This was a small village and bread could not be purchased unless a neighbor was willing to lend a few loaves. Living in the state of Texas, I can understand why the traveler arrived late in the night. He arrived at midnight, perhaps to avoid the heat of the day. Probably this was during summer time. Tired and hungry, he looks to his host for hospitality. However, by coming at an unusual hour, he places his friend in a predicament of either refusing hospitality, because he is out of bread, or by going to his neighbor to ask for a few loaves. This is a dilemma and impossible situation! Custom demands that he feeds his guest. If he refuses to feed his traveler friend, he has broken the established norm of hospitality and brings shame on himself and the village. Be reminded that in those days they did not have refrigerators and local convenience stores, and his cupboards were empty. If he goes to his neighbor and wakes him up late in the night, he would incur his displeasure. Desperate situations call for desperate measures. In his desperation, the host turns to his only alternative, a friend who can supply what he needs. This was an inconvenience, because it was way past bedtime. He calls his friend out of sleep: 'Friend lend me three loaves, because a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have nothing to set before him' He addresses his neighbor as 'friend,' may be to discourage anger, even though it was not a friendly gesture to wake him in the middle of the night. What makes the host's situation more difficult is that houses in Israel, especially in rural areas, were small, consisting of one room used as sitting room, dining room, and bedroom. The family slept on mats that were spread on the floor. A house had one door, which was left open throughout the day. But in the evening when the sun had set, the head of the family would close the door and set a wooden bar through the rings on both door and wall to keep out intruders. It was rather difficult to get up in the dark and find a needed article. If he lit the light, he would wake some of the family. The neighbor is reluctant to open the door. He says, 'I cannot get up and give you anything' (v.7). The neighbor is saying, 'I won't do it.' The neighbor's reluctance is understandable; his refusal is against everything his culture values. According to the custom of the day, the neighbor was under obligation to help this friend, but he has to go through some inconvenience in order to provide the bread to his friend. Therefore, it would be much easier if his next-door neighbor had disappeared in the dark. But the next-door neighbor is persistent. He does not give his friend rest and sleep. He knows that he cannot return home empty-handed, knowing that his guest is hungry and waiting. He keeps on asking for the bread until the neighbor gets up, light the lamp, removes the wooden bar, opens the door, and gives him the bread. He gives what goes with the bread.
What gets the attention of the next-door neighbor to give this bread to help the traveler in the night is not their friendship, but the neighbor's persistence. The word persistence is the key word in the conclusion of the parable. It depicts the attitude of a person who is obligated to show hospitality to a friend who came to him at midnight. In the context of his culture, this neighbor goes out of his way to provide for the physical needs of his visiting friend. He is willing to sacrifice friendship with his neighbor in order to be an accommodating host. He persists. He knows that his request would be honored in adverse circumstances.
How are we to understand this parable of prayer? Is God like a sleepy neighbor who is irritated when I come to Him at an inconvenient time with a deep need? Does God have to be badgered, pestered, and shamed into responding to our requests? Has 'God gone to bed?' or is He temporarily 'out of touch?' Exactly the opposite is true. God is not a sleepy friend but a loving Father. If a drowsy neighbor will respond to persistence when my need is real and urgent, how much more will my unwearied Father? If an emergency arises in my child's life at an inconvenient hour, I may not be thrilled when I get the call, but I want to get it and do all I can to help. Therefore, my God is eager all the more to help and all the more anxious to respond to my deep need. The parable then is not one of comparison but of contrast. The Lord is unlike the sleepy neighbor at all. God does not need to be shamed or cajoled into acting. He is sure to hear and quick to answer.
III. PRINCIPLES OF PRAYER VV. 9-13
The first thing that Jesus sets before us is the principle of persistence. The words 'ask, seek, and knock' suggest this, and each of them occurs in the present tense in the Greek language. It indicates a continuing action: 'Keep on asking; keep on seeking; and keep on knocking.' This shows that initial barriers to prayer are not to be seen as final refusals. The Lord often uses delays to deepen our dependence upon Him, or to refine our understanding of what we need from Him. Prayer involves seeing ourselves as needy people without the resources to meet our needs. However, the basis of prayer is not our persistence but the character of our God.
Another fundamental truth about prayer is the principle of assistance. The gift for which we should be praying and the gift the Father delights to give is His Holy Spirit, who ministers to the deepest needs of our hearts. This does not negate our petition. Nevertheless, often in prayer you set your heart on secondary things, instead of asking, seeking, and knocking for those things that only God the Spirit can do for you.
Therefore, the Lord has taught us how to pray. We are to pray trustingly, confident that a loving Father hears, cares, and responds. We are to pray persistently and audaciously, coming boldly to our God. We are to pray intimately, knowing that when we knock it is our Father who will open the door. We are to pray wisely. That is to say, we need to recognize that while we desire God's gifts, what we really need is God Himself, who has been made real to us through His indwelling Spirit. Many of you are spiritual asthmatics, wheezing your way through life, gasping for air because
your spiritual lives have been constricted by prayerlessness. When you pray, you admit that you cannot do it on your own; you need your Father. John Bunyan, English preacher and the author of Pilgrims Progress, said, 'Pray often; for prayer is a shield to the soul, a sacrifice to God, and a scourge for Satan.' God answers prayer in response to the faith the believer expresses.